Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Social Congress

All jokes about Anthony Weiner aside, a recent report from the Congressional Management Foundation (http://www.congressfoundation.org/) finds that "most members of Congress have thoroughly integrated social media in to their communications operations, and are using new media tools to gauge public opinion, communicate with constituents and reach new people." 

The findings on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were particularly interesting, with  64% of responding offices finding Facebook to be a somewhat or very useful tool for understanding constituent's views, while only 34% see YouTube as such. 

Yet staff seem to realize that  YouTube is the number two search engine after Google (really, it's true).  A whopping 72% think that YouTube is an important mechanism for communicating their member's view.  Notice the difference:  34% see YouTube as useful for receiving input while 72% see YouTube as useful for delivering messages.  I'm not sure why that is, but it tells me we can be a lot more effective in using this tools to get advocacy messages across to members of Congress.

In addition, I'm curious about how the rise of social media will impact this little thing we call "constituency."  When dealing with plain, old snail mail addresses, legislators and staff know whether the person they are communicating with is a constituent.  Online, it's much more difficult.  One of the first rules of advocacy is to be sure you can demonstrate why you're relevant to your audience -- and for Congress that means being a constituent.  But will social media change this basic tenant of representative democracy?  I'm not sure, but I'll be paying attention, I promise

Other findings suggest that many staff are concerned that their offices do not spend enough time on social media, with younger staffers find social media far more important to the operations than older staff do.  This tells me that the use of social media will only rise as older staff retire and newer staff, with their social savvy, come to Capitol Hill.

What can we take away from this?  Apparently the Internet is here to stay and we avoid it at our peril.  Even if your demographic is older and your first thought is "well, my members won't use social media"," remember that your ultimate audience, legislators and their staff, do.

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